Fulham's immaculate passer with a talent for friendship

Ken Jones remembers Britain's first £100-a-week footballer as someone full of appealing contradictions on and off the field
Click to follow
The Independent Football

What could anyone say? Another good guy, another great player is gone.

In the narrowest and best and most exacting sense of the term, Haynes was a star performer, appearing in the mind's eye as an outstandingly gifted inside-forward, an immaculate passer, who possessed a sixth sense on the football field and a way of going about life that made people warm to him.

The career of Haynes has been called one of the most contradictory in the history of British football. He was the country's first £100-a-week player; he was one of the first to use his name for advertising purposes and to have an agent, Bagenal Harvey who also represented Haynes' hero Denis Compton; and he captained England on 22 occasions. Yet for all that he left the game, after nearly 20 years, without an honour to his name. The reason was simple; he chose to spend the whole of his career with Fulham.

For years Fulham and Haynes were synonymous: even more so, perhaps, than the contemporary associations of Tom Finney and Preston, Nat Lofthouse and Bolton, or Stanley Matthews and Blackpool. Unlike those stars he spent half his career in the Second Division, winning 32 of his 56 caps as a Second Division player; unlike them he never appeared in a Cup final; and unlike them he never became Footballer of the Year.

I knew Haynes well, but not intimately. He could be spare with words, blunt but invariably charming, courteous, generous with praise, and when appropriate, bitingly critical. For a number of years he had been living in Edinburgh, where he and his wife Avril ran a small business. He looked upon the life of modern footballers with no envy. "They are of their time, I was of mine," he would say.

By birth and upbringing he should not have been a Fulham player at all. Born and raised in Edmonton, north London, he should logically have joined Tottenham Hotspur. But after a brilliant performance for England schoolboys against Scotland he chose to join Fulham partly because his friend Trevor Chamberlain had gone to Craven Cottage a year before.

Haynes made his debut on Boxing Day 1952, and over the next 18 seasons was to play over 700 games for Fulham. In 1961, after his former colleague Jimmy Hill had secured the removal of the £20-a-week maximum wage, the Fulham chairman Tommy Trinder said that "Johnny is worth £100 a week" and within 24 hours the negotiations for a revision of his contract were complete. "If the maximum wage hadn't been lifted I would definitely have gone abroad," he once told me.

The 1962 World Cup in Chile was not one from which many people took fond memories, least of all Haynes, then the England captain. Critics singled him out for blame, arguing that his style of play, with the emphasis on passes inside the full-back, had been rendered obsolete by the development of a back-four defence.

The debate was soon of no consequence: on the eve of an away match for Fulham against Blackpool two months later, Haynes was pulled from a car crash, his right knee so badly damaged that he did not play for a year and was told by doctors that he might never play again.

Haynes recovered sufficiently to play a further 236 games for Fulham, but his international career ended with England's elimination from the 1962 finals. Interestingly, however, he was not completely written off until Alf Ramsey's second year as manager of the national team. George Cohen remembers Ramsey asking him about Haynes. "Alf was still experimenting with his midfield, and he asked me about John, how well he was doing week in and week out. Considering the severity of his injury, I thought John was playing exceptionally well. Alf had been to one of our games. 'I don't think he'll ever be properly fit again,' he said.

"After all the work John had put in, I thought he would be upset to hear what Alf said, but he agreed. 'Alf's a good judge,' he said. Contrary to what some people have written, Alf never held anything against John Haynes."

It irks Cohen when Haynes is overlooked in stellar selections. "John was a magnificent footballer," Cohen said. "I cannot explain to people just how good he was. He had terrific vision and knew exactly what he was going to do before the ball reached him."

The essential thing about Haynes was something you hardly ever read on the obituary page, the simple fact that he made it a pleasure to know him.

Comments